Ma, Yuan. Shui tujuan. 1160-1225.

Ma, Yuan. Shui Tujuan. 1160–1225, The Palace Museum, Beijing,

Project (2018-2023)

Reaping the Benefits of Water: The Technological Underpinnings of Political Reform in Eleventh-Century China

Much of the discussion of the Qingli 慶曆 and Xifeng 熙豐 reforms in eleventh-century China has hitherto focused on their economic and intellectual dimensions. This research examines the epistemic and technological underpinnings of the reforms. With a focus on the neologism of shuili, or "[reaping] the benefits of water," during Wang Anshi's New Policies, it argues that the polemics between the conservative and reformist factions over moral and fiscal matters reflect a discrepancy in their understanding of legitimate political action. Such a discrepancy was rooted in the shifting technological landscape of the time. The emerging technologies in surveying, mapping, engineering, and farming opened up more venues of and possibilities for governance, propelling local governments in certain regions to collect new data, seek new forms of expertise, and mobilize labor for new purposes. Reformists contended that the state should actively reap the benefits of water, among other resources Heaven and Earth could offer. This research project seeks to demonstrate that such a conviction was based not simply on the success stories of riziculture in the South, but also on new technologies and forms of knowledge that had expanded the horizons of governance, informing a rearticulation of statecraft since the early years of the Song.

Past Events

Reinventing Disaster in Yuan China